EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 4:30 PM EDT (2030 GMT) after delay.
SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its next Starship test missile Friday afternoon, with the next opportunity for the atmospheric test flight expected Monday. SpaceX plans to launch and land the rocket at the company’s development complex in South Texas, after three previous prototypes were lost to explosions.
The self-developed Starship test vehicle – dubbed SN11 – will be the fourth full-size Starship vehicle to take off from SpaceX’s test site in Cameron County, Texas. Like three previous Starship test flights in December, February and earlier this month, the prototype will attempt to fly to an altitude of about 33,000 feet, or 10,000 meters, before returning to the ground for a vertical missile-assisted landing.
SN11 is the latest in a line of prototypes for SpaceX’s next generation launch vehicle that will eventually reach nearly 400 feet or about 120 meters in height and transport more than 220,000 pounds, or 100 metric tons, of cargo to low Earth orbit. That’s more lifting power than any rocket in the world.
With life support systems and space refueling, the Starship can transport heavy cargo and people outside of orbit. SpaceX is one of three industry teams with a NASA contract to design and refine concepts for a human-rated lunar lander for the space agency’s Artemis lunar program.
According to Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the Starship program is intended to eventually transport passengers and supplies to faraway space destinations to Mars.
The Starship vehicle will form the top portion of the massive orbital rocket, which SpaceX will refer to as the Starship. The booster of the first stage is called the Super Heavy. Both vehicles are designed to be completely reusable.
SpaceX confirmed plans for the Starship SN11 test flight on its website Friday, but Musk tweeted Friday afternoon that the company was “stopping” from launch “until likely Monday.”
“Extra cash registers are needed. We are doing our best to land and make a full recovery, ”Musk tweeted.
The company says it plans to provide a live video stream of the Starship’s launch and landing.
SpaceX tested the Starship rocket at the launch site Friday morning, paving the way for final preparations for launch before managers finally halted the test flight.
The 164-foot-high (50-meter) Starship SN11 vehicle will be powered at launch by three methane-powered Raptor engines that produce more than a million pounds of thrust at full power.
After the Starship moves away from the launch pad, it will shut down its three Raptor engines in sequence before the rocket reaches the top of its orbit.
“SN11 will perform a propellant transition to the internal header tanks, which contain landing propellant, before reorienting itself for reentry and controlled aerodynamic descent,” SpaceX wrote on its website.
“The Starship prototype will descend under active aerodynamic control, achieved by independent movement of two front and two rear flaps on the vehicle,” SpaceX wrote. “All four valves are operated by an onboard computer to monitor Starship’s attitude in flight and allow for an accurate landing at the intended location.
“The SN11’s Raptor engines will then re-fire when the vehicle attempts a landing flip maneuver immediately before the landing pad lands next to the launch pad.”
The entire flight is expected to take between six and seven minutes. This time, SpaceX hopes the Starship vehicle will remain intact.
A hard landing on an otherwise successful Starship test flight on December 9 was caused by low pressure from the head tanks that fed the vehicle’s Raptor engines for the critical burn just before landing, and one of the Raptor engines failed to re-ignite before the landing fire on a test flight February 2.
The SN10 missile achieved the first soft landing of a full-size Starship vehicle at the end of a March 3 test flight, but the missile exploded minutes later.
Despite the explosion, the Starship SN10 test flight proved to be a significant achievement for SpaceX’s Starship flight test program. SpaceX wants to build on that experience with the SN11 flight.
The early focus of SpaceX’s Starship program was to build infrastructure at the Boca Chica test site, located on the coast of the Gulf of Texas near the US-Mexico border. Earlier this month, SpaceX completed stacking the first Super Heavy booster, which Musk says is a “ production pad finder. ”
SpaceX assembled the first Super Heavy test item, called BN1, to learn how to build and transport the 70-meter-high first stage, which is itself the size of a Falcon 9 rocket used by SpaceX for operational satellites. launches.
The second Super Heavy booster, which is being manufactured but not yet assembled, is designed to fly, presumably on a suborbital test launch, according to Musk.
SpaceX is aiming to launch the first fully stacked Super Heavy and Starship in an orbital launch attempt from South Texas in July. “That’s our goal,” Musk tweeted.
An orbital launch attempt by July is an aggressive target, like many schemes outlined by SpaceX’s hard-hitting founder and chief executive.
The orbital version of the Starship vehicle will have six Raptor engines, including three engines with enlarged bell-shaped nozzles optimized for higher efficiency in the vacuum of space. The orbital class spaceship will also have a heat shield to survive when it re-enters the atmosphere.
During an orbital launch attempt, the reusable Super Heavy will detach from the spaceship – serving as both an upper stage and in-space transporter – and return to Earth for a vertical landing. The starship will remain in orbit and deploy its charges or travel to its destination in deep space and eventually return to Earth to be flown again.
SpaceX’s long-term plans for Starship operations include the use of a floating launch pad parked in the ocean. SpaceX is converting a decommissioned offshore drilling platform for its future Super Heavy and Starship launch facility.
The Super Heavy booster is powered by 28 Raptor engines, which produce approximately 16 million pounds of thrust, more than twice the power of five booster engines on NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket.
The entire Super Heavy and Starship stack will be about 30 feet wide, about 1.5 times the diameter of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
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